Panzanella or Fattoush? That is the question. In reality, they are pretty much the same salad…and yet, not. That makes no sense, does it? At their roots, they are both bread salads, with good veggies tossed in. But it is all about the bread or the pita, and with this version, you don’t have to choose between the two…Fattoush-azella! Panzanella, or Tuscan Bread Salad, is a bread salad. Bread is the star. Keep in mind, that freshly baked bread headed south and dried out pretty quickly in times past. The original purpose of this mixture was to use that less-than-fresh bread. The vegetables are just there to enhance the bread, not the other way around. I would imagine that Fattoush, or Lebanese Pita-Vegetable Salad, was created for the same reason, stale pita bread. But, how we handle the bread/pita is important. You don’t want to let the bread sit on the counter and dry out…no, no, no. You want to cube it up and toast those little squares in the oven. It takes about 10 minutes, because you don’t want the toasted cubes to break your jaw. Since, I’m making this for just two people, I use the toaster oven for the pita and bread. I used pocketless pita, which has a nice texture when toasted, but pocketed pita will be delightfully crisp, almost potato chip-like. Personally, I prefer to have a combination of the two, so, I used some nice whole-grain “regular” bread, as well as the pocketed pita.
As to the vegetables, tomatoes are front and center with these salads. But, we also add cucumbers, onions, bell peppers, and fresh herbs tossed together and bathed in a nice little vinaigrette. That’s pretty much it for both salads. We can probably assume the original salads didn’t even contain tomatoes. Tomatoes are a New World “discovery”, so Europe didn’t know them until probably about the 16th century and these salads have been around long before that. Anyway, I love this salad in summer. Hands down, for the best flavor, you want to use just-picked, summer tomatoes, still warm from the sun. But, it’s not August. So now what?
In the off-season, I use either heirloom tomatoes from the supermarket or those colorful cherry tomatoes that are available all year. Either will make a decent out-of-season salad. I use English (or Persian) cucumbers, no matter when I make this salad; I prefer to leave the peel on. I’ve used Vidalia, red onion, spring onions or scallions. Any of these are good, but scallions are readily available all year and they’re a bit more mild and won’t take over. I’ve used both fresh bell peppers and roasted peppers, and either is delicious. But, these days I’m liking those small sweet peppers that you can get on olive bars. And olives. I like black olives, but you can use whatever you want. For the herbs, this is where you can have some real fun. I’ve used fresh basil, Thai or lemon basil, lemon verbena, oregano, dill, cilantro, mint, or fennel fronds. I don’t use parsley. I don’t see the point when I have all those other options. But, if parsley is your preference, knock yourself out. I prefer to combine several of these herbs—basil, lemon verbena, oregano and a few mint leaves are my favorite combo.
I combine the vinaigrette ingredients in the bottom of the salad bowl. It just works well, and no extra bowl to wash. I really like a mustard-forward, sharp vinaigrette, with just a hint of sweetness. If you’re making this with fresh, garden tomatoes, you may not need the added sweetness. Just whisk everything together, except the oil, then drizzle in the oil…you know the drill. I add the tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes (jicama is also good), olives, scallions, pickled peppers (Where’s Peter Piper when you need him?) and red pepper flavors, if I’m using them. I stir this all together and let it “steep” for about 15 minutes. Notice, I don’t add the fresh herbs at this point. They are the very last thing you’re going to add, to keep the flavors sharp.
The last thing I add is the bread. I pop the bread in the toaster oven and toast it up until it has really good color and is crisp-ish. It shouldn’t be like cardboard. I dice up the pita and the bread, toss them into the bowl and let the mixture stand for about 10 minutes, tossing a couple of times during the “nap”.
This salad can be made a couple of hours ahead, but I never refrigerate it, particularly, when I’m using garden tomatoes. If you refrigerate the salad, the tomatoes will lose significant flavor. Since this is a combination of both Fattoush and Panzanella, we’ll call this Fattoush-azella! Then, it’s dinner!
This is best made a few hours before serving. However, it’s also pretty darn good eaten immediately after preparing.
- Mustard Vinaigrette:
- 1 rounded teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1-2 tablespoons wine vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar or honey
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic granules
- 2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper (use lots!)
- 1 pocketless pita, toasted until crispy
- 1-2 slices good quality bread, toasted and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 6-8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 4 inches of English cucumbers, quartered lengthwise and sliced
- 3 scallions, including some of the green part, sliced
- 3 radishes, diced
- 3 sweet pickled peppers, diced
- 1/3 cup pitted black olives (about 10-14)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil (large leaf)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh chives
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh lemon basil
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
Put all the vinaigrette ingredients, except the oil, in the bottom of a medium-sized bowl. Whisk the mixture together; slowly whisk in the oil until the mixture is smooth. Taste and correct the seasoning.
Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl in any order. Fold the mixture together, let stand for 20 minutes or cover and refrigerate for an hour or two. Taste and add more vinegar, oil and/or sugar, to suit your taste.
NOTE: I’ve given the amounts I used for the salad in the pictures. I like a mustard-y dressing, but make the vinaigrette to suit your tastes. Also, you may add canned beans (garbanzos are my preference), canned tuna, cooked chicken or salmon and you may add cubes of feta, if that suits you. Make it yours!
At times, I have added diced celery hearts, diced fresh fennel, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, orange sections, asparagus, green beans and sun-dried tomatoes. Any of these options are good.
Fattoush-azella! Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2017. All rights reserved.
Next time I make this, I will salt the tomatoes slightly, let them drain. But, I’ll save that drained juice and whisk it into the vinaigrette. It should make a more intensely flavored salad…I’ll keep you posted.